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Alpinists Caught in Avalanche on Alaska’s The Medusa Face

The three New Hampshire guides were funded by The Cutting Edge grant for the Neacola Mountain expedition

In Alaska, Ryan Driscoll, Justin Guarino and Nick Aiello-Popeo were involved in a big avalanche in the Neacola Mountains of the Aleutian Range located in Mount Neacola in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve on Easter. For 20 seconds, they fell down the mountain still in their own tents.

Driscoll had received The Cutting Edge grant from the American Alpine Club to fund the expedition. The avalanche was reported in the Anchorage Daily News.

They three climbers are guides in New Hampshire who’d planned on spending a month in Alaska. The experienced climbers were waiting for a good weather window on the north face aka The Medusa Face, which has never been climbed, but had been attempted by the like of Fred Beckey.

In 2016, Erik Rieger wrote about the Neacola Mountains in the American Alpine Journal (AAJ), and said: In 1995, Harvey returned with the young and talented Topher Donahue. Their focus was on difficulty, and they aimed for the massive north face of Neacola—what Donahue calls the Medusa Face, about 4,500 feet tall. Using a portaledge and completing much intricate ice, mixed, and aid climbing (up to 5.10 and A3), they reached the top of the face at midnight, “about 800 feet” of easier climbing below the summit. “We spent the night doing the dance of life on a tiny ledge chopped into the ice,” Donahue wrote in AAJ 1996. “Morning brought no improvement, and clouds poured off the ocean to the east. Opting for descent while we still could, we rappelled through the storm.” The face hasn’t been attempted since.

They slid down the Lobsterclaw Glacier with their arms held wide to create an air pocket in anticipation of being buried. When the tents came to rest, they were on top of the avalanche debris. Aiello-Popeo hit his head during the fall, but it wasn’t severe.

They then managed to prop one of their tents to have shelter while they made a plan. They messaged their pilot Doug Brewer who said he’d pick them up once the weather cleared. Furthermore, they stomped out a rough runway and were soon back in town and warming up in a motel.

The three climbers are back hom in New Hampshire but will be keeping an eye on the weather in the Neacola Mountains for a chance to return.